After relieving myself, I turned toward the men’s bathroom mirror to find the sink being shared with same performer who minutes ago was about to have his body split apart by four motorcycles. Gustavo was slowly and calmly washing the mud off his lithe body.
On that drizzly evening in Houston’s downtown warehouse district, the streets were being repaved, construction materials and its detritus was lying about with a thin layer of mud on new concrete. A perfect site for an outdoor performance.
As the four motorbikes started their engines, emerging from the exhaust, Gustavo, wearing only underwear, crawled on his knees and elbows to approach each vehicle from the rear tire. His foot or hand would slide between the tire and back bumper, at once caressing, penetrating and then retracting. Think of the animal tamer placing his head in the lion’s open gape. After each bike was sufficiently tested or taunted, Chantal Wallace would rope bind his folded limbs to prevent them from unflexing. His bounded joints were tethered to the backseats. Engines revved to a deafening roar. Riders inched their bikes to pull the ropes taut. With the engines roaring, this horsed-powered “pride” ran the real risk of quartering our performer. To this writer, it was the highlight of Experimental Action Houston 2019. Seré millones, by Gustavo Solar, February 2019.
I met with Gustavo a few days to later at his hostel. Our conversation meandered through a philosophical inquiry of his practice and his thoughts of what performance art can do and become. What emerges is a thoughtful, articulate artist concerned with the intellectual framework of his pieces, in tune with himself physiologically and ideologically, whose forward looking perspective invites and creates a vision of where performance can play a more central role in the arts of South America.
The following is an edited English translation, of our 45 minute interview.
Henry G. Sanchez (HS): Do you consider yourself a lion tamer?
Gustavo Solar (GS): What I'm a tamer?
HS: At your performance on Friday one of the things I noticed is that after they untied you, that you put your hand and foot between the rim, the wheel and the bumper. It seemed as if you made the gesture like the lion tamer, the tamer of animals…
GS: Oh but, the machines...
HS: Yeah, but you're a machine tamer.
GS: Yeah, yeah, I feel the same but, you know, I prefer to call myself, that is, think in the figure of a hacker, do you know?
HS: No. A hacker?
GS: Hacker, people who... People who know the commands of computers, the internet...
HS: Ok... Oh, good to know this, a hacker!
GS: Yeah, I think it's more propitious let's say, and more accurate, because there's a kind of intention to tame, say, but with knowledge, you know? As there is one, there is a question of power, it's about power, but also it's about knowledge, it's about hope to do it. You know? And, in this case it`s not about... It's not about doing it in a traditional, classic way, it's about taking other roads, other roads...
But also I think it's very important for me to have that kind of relationship with the, with materials, you know, that kind of contact. But, also a big reason, of wanting some kind of equality there... with modern things... - A kind of reinvention of the values or rebuilding of the values there.
HS: Ok, but you use machines in your performances. Cars, motorcycles, why not a computer? And for that matter why not a lawnmower?
GS: Yes, I'm very interested in these fetishes, in these objects as fetish, right?
HS: It's because the machines have a dangerous element...
GS: Yes, but also destructive, say for instance, it could be guns, weapons, but also they are erotic for us... so, it has this double sense, with more meanings, you know? I love to place myself this between. Between all these meanings, you can have some space there, and be there watching the senses and meanings of these fetishes, and I think with the car, the motorcycle. What is it like on the road, they are our modern fetishes, they are like our manifesto.
And, it is also very important for me for example the verisimilitude, how do you say this in English?
GS: Yeah, that's the reason maybe because I use machines, because they're like fake, they're artificial but also they are like living in a way, like breathing, like “vroom-vroom”, like doing something, like a drone. A drone is like, maybe like a bird, you know?
HS: It has this sense that there are two machines, one is the creators of machines, it is an extension of a person, do you understand? But maybe there another leg, or it's like a horse and rider, it's one, but half is an animal.
GS: And it's popular consumption right?
HS: When you started as an artist, did you start as a performance artist?
GS: Yeah, it was very like, natural to me, because when I was...
HS: You were not painting first?
GS: No, I was, I did this, in parallel. Because in my college it was about painting, drawing, about fine arts, right? But I always had the intuition with my body. I just went to the University.
HS: You just knew, this...
GS: Sure, I mean, I have 10 years doing this, 10 years is a lot. So I took a workshop, I remember, in an occupation with anarchist people, there I had a teacher there called Gonzalo Rabanal...
HS: And he is one of the leaders of the protest occupation?
GS: No, no, no, he is a performance artist also, but he was on a patriotic front against the dictatorship. He was like a guerrilla. That was very important because...I give credit to the academy, but the academy is not the same, it was as if there were two roads, two ways to study performance.
We have a political history in Chile that I find interesting to not fall into, into the trap of accessibility, that is, you have to deep down think that performance is a tool that can be used for many other things, not only to make art. And it's more complex, always, then it gets more complex. I think for me the future I have a lot to see... In other words, for me the ideal utopian future, it would have a lot to do with “occupation” in the pedagogy too. Because it is a way of understanding identity and processes of production and speech...
HS: Was your family very political?
GS: Yes, there is a little left of reference there, but I never wanted to be like too much. I did not want it to be like that. We (in Chile) have this loaded caricature and the categorization of being self-flagellating. I have this history.
HS: Therefore, it’s not about an autobiography.
GS: No, it's about more something open, but also with these notions and references. Yeah, I want it to be like that. But you touched on a very important topic for my work because there is a difference between, orthopedics and prosthesis, you know?
HS: Yes, there is a difference between prosthesis and orthopedics….
GS: It's very different, so, I like how to think that the products are delivered to the culture of masses, like orthopedics. So, when I do performance art, I do prosthesis with that orthopedics, you know? Extensions, about freedom, not about orthopedics per se, you know? It's something like that. That's why the reason to think about a hacker much more. Because one intervenes, intervenes on the surface and bends it, gives it a meaning that it does not have. But that it has to have, right? The hacker does this. There is a program there, and the hacker is like, “tuc, tuc” (typing gesture). Because he knows about it, but not in a classic way, but he knows you can change it from its first fact…mutate it.
HS: Exactly, it doubles over, and it turns around, yes I understand now.
GS: And that's very…liberating right? I do not know if this is revolutionary but for me it's like that.
HS: Maybe not, but you can contribute to this way of creating performance...
GS: Yeah, yeah, and share.
HS: Yeah that's right, this is can be more participatory.
GS: It's about “you can do it”, you know, It's about you can do it with your things, with your people. “You can do it this...”
HS: As a Chilean, how do you introduce your nationality in performances? I mean, because there are flags, etc...
HS: And how do they work together. There this hacker sort of a person, and a Chilean, and a person who is gay? How do all the parties stay together?
GS: Yes, but it's not that crossed, is it? Like inter-sectionality, but very strong. And I think that historically my country or my land, has a history of confrontation with the world. We have been intervened many times, I like to think of myself as a mestizo too, the Mestizo figure is crucial in the polarization of the world, right? For a moment, there was no such clear figure, it was the indigenous and the settler, but his coloniality was affecting who is there. So we are have that miscegenation that is positioning itself, and Chile has history not only with the colony, but with the dictatorship, which has been well strong and well, crucial actually, let's say for my generation for example. I was born when the dictatorship ended. It was over the same year I was born. So for me in that piece I can not to erase the fact that the United States has been the one who has intervened in our lands, right?
HS: Then there are the coincidence of the US history of 9/11/2001.., and Chile’s September 11, 1973.
GS: Yes. But I do not like to make propaganda. It's more particular because I want to do something new but political also. Yeah and it's difficult I think because we are used to receiving propaganda, right? Which is political history.
HS: No, that's a problem with performances today, there are many artists that mean well, but the performances become like a lecture, preaching. And to the choir for that matter!
GS: Yeah, for me it's boring, let's say, because I can do that, it's boring because I think that the performance can do so much more, at the cognitive level, it covers the unconscious collective. For me the author of the performance has to have it be vibrating, there one becomes the author of the interpretation. It has to be vibrating, that's why these semiotic ones multiply, that’s what makes it interesting for me.
HS: Do you do things with your hands? Make objects? Drawings of your performances?
GS: Yes too. And temporary installations. Sure, of course, but everything related, I think I'm like an activist without wanting to do it.
HS: Yeah, exactly, right...
GS: Because I always talk about, the attitude of “you have to do it”, you know? Come on, come on!
Because I think it's a treasure. It's something that...
HS: It's a gift, and it's a privilege to be an artist. There is an internal freedom.
GS: That's true and... Yeah, there's freedom there, in a rare way, in a weird way, there is deep freedom. Absolutely, and when one performs, perhaps the difference with other arts, one there is a releasing something that you, or do not know what it is. There is something alive there, absolutely alive, which is the suspension of your identity from other things. At the same time you are releasing others and the objects, like it's cutting chains, with many layers. With history, with...
HS: And different layers of meanings, different levels of metaphors, historical, biographical, and with others also. I think that it’s like a ritual, but modern, right?
GS: Yeah, right, it's a modern ritual.
HS: So, when you start a new performance, how do you start? Do you write it down first? Do you act it out?
GS: It's difficult, it's like WiFi, you know? Because, for example, I was invited here and, without knowing not much about Houston? The bikes appeared in my head and then I investigated and realized that maybe I had a connection with the motorized things that is in Houston, right? But it works more like with intuition, then I do research. I'm very interested in that process, for example, I was watching Kenneth Anger, there is a movie, Scorpio Rising.
HS: Oh yes, he’s quite important, very important.
GS: So, for me is about culture, not folklore, its modern, so that's my “doomed sea”, right?
HS: I think I see. So you consider the culture first.
GS: Pop culture and underground. For me is very important to have this connection. I do not want to be just underground. I want it to also be popular, you know?
HS: Do you mean you want people to see it, you want people to see things?
GS: Yes, yes, it is that simple and at the same time it can be very complex. That is, I do not want to work only with feminism and that's it. I don’t want to work with just post-pornography and that's all. I want, you know, things to be open, like an open source.
HS: Right. I mean, there are many performances that are very ideological. And like you said, it's very boring, very boring. And when there are performances that are only about politics, there are no others meanings...
GS: Exactly. And we can do more, you know, and always that's important.
HS: Yes It's just very hard. When I was reading about your work and seeing your performance, in my mind, the motorcycles seemed like horses, like a form of torture, which is European form of torture.
HS: Can you talk more about that?
GS: And it is Asian. There is, I think, something similar with five horses.
HS: Yes, It's quartering.
GS: And also there is a head, you know? So, I think it is collective in a way, this kind of bad things are with is, they are with us. There is a Brazilian psychoanalyst who talks about our colonial unconscious, right? Our shadow, our Deep web, you know? And in this case the reference was a Spanish castle that was exercised over indigenous leaders in upper Peru, they then dismembered the speech of the ancestral-ity of that body. In that body meant the speech. The speech of those people, you know? And I think all these structures are not native, they are not indigenous.
HS: So, when you use the idea of quartering it's, you see it more a global idea.
GS: Yeah, absolutely. But, also with the reference that is contextual with South America, with the collection of the bodies and the fragmentation of the indigenous peoples, which is still very latent, right? Because is still have it now. We have the peoples, the Mapuche people that are being exterminated, the peoples of the Amazon also. I wanted to deal with that situation, which is like a vindication. It's like taking a necropolitic structure, how do you say this in English?
GS: Necropolitical, yeah. It's like state terrorism, something like that. You know, like institutions dealing with death. Death institutions protected by a central power. Institutions of death.
HS: This is a new word from me.
GS: Necropolitical, yes. Is about dictatorships, and dictatorships in the colony, the Inquisition, because there is structure, you know? It is normal. Kill like this, kill like that. It has a political order to organize society.
HS: You are using other references with other meanings in your performance last night.
GS: Yeah, yeah. But you can do connection with other artists, you know? Francis Bacon. Chris Burden.
HS: Yes, right! You worked with another artist in Chile.
GS: Yes, I have worked with duos. The duo, being with another person, is as the minimum unit of the social, two people are the minimum unit of society, in a way.
HS: Oh, yes, right.
GS: So, I have a lot of work with others that is different.
HS: Yeah, and it's more difficult.
GS Yes, much harder.
HS: Because it's a lot of compromise.
GS: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
HS: That's very interesting. Many of the collaborations that I see in performance consist of a group, not of two people.
GS: I always with duos, with another person. It's always that way.
HS: I want talk more about your practice. How do you prepare for a performance, and how do you rest after the performance? It's almost like there are three performances.
GS: Yes, absolutely yes. I think it's is similar to a battle, you know? A battle you are doing this with the culture, you are doing this like you are pushing away, you are doing like this and you are like going into something else. So it's always like a feeling that a fight is going to happen, right? Something like that.
HS: So, you're like a fighter.
GS: Yes, one that is kind of popular... Yes.
HS: And after how do you change?
GS: Of course, because this is very strange, I think that the most important thing is we should rescue. Not because you change chemically, I do not. It becomes difficult for you to reconnect with yourself because you lose something, from the past.
HS: So, then you need to remind yourself of who you were… Who you where before the performance.
GS: Yeah because it's totally new, you know? You dont do this every day, like going to the kitchen, going to the bathroom.
HS: Performance is fifteen minutes of your life and you need to come back.
GS: And you have some motorcycles there that you never saw, you never experienced what could happen with certain connections and the mud is there, and there are people... there is a real metamorphosis, you know? It is very strong.
HS: Do you meditate?
GS: Yeah, I have this. I have a lot of connection with mysticism also, but not like cliché, you know? It’s something real with things. Connection. Or reconnection, Im not sure.
HS: How do you prepare your body? Do you practice yoga?
GS: Yes, I do different practices but I do not try to be like a disciple either. I try to be more prepared, on alert. I like that word a lot. To be in alert state is also to be awake.
HS: Ok, so it's about being awake.
GS: Yeah, awake, and it's kind of psychic relationship with... yeah, that's the perfect definition, because it's not about calculating something, it's about like being and so you can move things in the correct way, and do this hacking.
HS: Yeah, you have to hack your head. Because you're figuring out a new way of walking.
GS: Yeah, absolutely. And you are hacking yourself. And you know why it's hacking? Because the hacker does not do anything new, they occupy what is there, let's say, the surface of the commands, of the culture, and occupies it.
HS: Hacking is just a new term, but the practice of how we can reconfigure is old.
GS: Yeah, it's old. How are you doing this? Open it. I think the culture of the masses is opening up too, but it opens with a certain domain, right? Like this. We are going down other roads. Other forked roads. Maybe its quick, which is why hackers look like strangers, right? As difficult as it seems, but it is the same.
HS: How do you see your work in the future? How do you see yourself as an artist in the future?
GS: It's a good question. Because, I do not know why, but I think I want to teach, you know? Because I have an idea of what my performance may be in the future. Yes, because performance now is very underground and its about elitism in a way, some people know about it. But I have some dream about that the culture in the future will make performance like something... Like pop, I do not know. Not pop in the bad way. Other kinds of pop like folklore which could it be good, you know? It's simple but it could be complex too. It depends on yourself. And I think this practice could connect spirituality with the sciences, with creation, that is my utopia in the future. So, I see myself participating in a project. I want to create a space in South America. There is not even a project space in South America for performance.
HS: Do you want to live here? Or do you want to stay in Chile?
GS: No, in Chile! Chile or Argentina. But I want to create some space like a factory, I do not know, a place to study, to experiment in performance, because we are always in a short meetings, events. Performance events are very temporary. I want to research.
HS: Now that's a good idea!
GS: And there is nothing like that in South America, you know?
HS: Nothing? Not even the schools?
GS: Yeah but what is that? Is it like a satellite, you know? There are no principles. It is not about body or performance, it’s about theater maybe, dance or visual art. But performance is more, precise. We need space, they need space. South America above all.
HS: So, there is no performance space in Chile?
HS: So, if you start it, it would be the first one.
GS: Yeah, I want to do something like that.
HS: Why do not you start? Why not do it now?
GS: Because I need some help. I believe in the collective very much. But it's something that if it does not happen to me it's going to happen in the future. It has to happen.
HS: Are there many performances in Chile?
GS: Yes there is, but not so much, but yes. It is a movement that is growing as you say. That has to do with something that is happening. Maybe we cannot see because we are watching it year after year, but if you see the image, the complete picture, maybe it's going to be a movement.
HS: So, you want to start a movement?
GS: Yeah, ha-ha!
HS: Therefore you are a revolutionary? But it's a cultural revolution.
GS: Yeah, maybe, I like that.
HS: This conversation is very philosophical, cause I did not ask you specific questions about the performance last night but instead is more about your philosophy in the way you think about performance.
GS: Yeah, yeah.
HS: Which I think is more important, because people write about performance, they just look at it, they describe it and they do not understand the performance. For a performance artist, the process might the same as the painter, the same as a sculptor, from a new media artist, they are similar in the kind of researching process, except that you are using your body.
GS: Yeah, yeah, in a way.
HS: You are right, it's not the same, it's not the same, but the point is to let people know that you are like other artists, and that the process is not simple, it must be taken seriously! It is not like you go out there and do whatever you want, just make it up. You have to consider it, take your time, think about what you need to do and how it's going to be done.
GS: I think the most important thing is that you tell the other "you can to do it in some way" because the bodies are built, right? The bodies are built. Life forms are built, and that is an invitation to empower themselves, how do you say this in English? Empowerment? It's like emancipation. For me, maybe, this is very important. It's not important on the level of efficacy. Because you can have performance as production or efficiency (rendimiento). That is when performance or someone is good or bad. I think what is more important, is performance as liberation. But…
HS: But what about quality? You do not want to do bad work.
GS: Yeah, but that's personal, you know? That's very personal. Yes, I want to do something good, but it's not like a movie, you know? It's different, it's another form of performance. I cannot explain it. Because there are levels of how you feel...
HS: Are there performances that you think were not very good, that you did not like?
GS: Yeah, yeah.
HS: But you keep it to yourself.
GS: Absolutely, and I never... I never say "hey, I did not like the work" without so much as going to say why…
HS: But you learn something from those pieces...
GS: It's not about tyranny, you know? It's about Humanity. In art there is a lot tyranny. “You are good or not good and that's all.” It's not about that, it's more about empathy, absolutely. You can do performance. You can make performance with your only partner, if you want to do it. But you need time to do it with them... That's very important.
HS: Do you write? Do you write about your art?
GS: I write. Yes, sometimes. I am doing something about this project.
HS: I ask because you are so very articulate about your process and the way you think. It would make sense that you would write about it.
GS: Yeah, I'm studying to have a more academic language. I'm studying Philosophy and Psychology. This year I start. So, for me it is very important to collect these conceptual tools to have a good background.
HS: Is there a philosopher that you like more?
GS: Yes. Obviously I like Espinoza. And then there is Suely Rolnik, a Brazilian psychoanalyst. She worked with Deleuze & Guattari. She is Brazilian, she is good. There are others, but more complex, do you know Simondon? Gilbert Simondon is the name of this guy.
GS: Yes. He has a book that talks about some of the techniques, the theories, good speech about the existence of an entity within the machines. He is good. That we are not alone, we are always with technology, always. As well as in the past.
HS: These days, we can bring in machines in our body. This is common.
GS: Yeah, but, he talks about the first technique, like this...(Gustavo bangs on a can). Because if you do not have that, you are not human, you know? It is very interesting. He talks about these ideas.
HS: So you have to have machines in order to be human.
GS: In a way, yeah. Because, we don’t have memories of our humanity simply, there is no history of that.
HS: We dont have a human memory of a life without machines!
GS: Exactly. So he is good. Then there is the philosophic concept of transhumanism…
HS: There is a performance artist called Sterlac.
GS: Yeah, he’s a transhumanist. He is about that. It's a little like dangerous, you know? Because it’s risky this movement. Because of power, money, and all that stuff.
HS: But you do not want to be Sterlac.
GS: No I do not.
HS: No. Instead you want to be like an animal tamer!
GS: Ha! You know what? I feel sometimes my performances is something urban, very urban? Like when rappers are doing free style, in a way, but, you can be tamer, because it's like a battle.
HS: It's more raw.
GS: Yeah, it's more raw, yeah. I like that. Good. Ha!